I’m excited to announce that my latest release, a psychological thriller called Dead Dry Heart, is now available for pre-order at all Amazon outlets. It will be going live in three weeks, but during the pre-order period it will selling for half price. So hurry to avoid disappointment!
Here is the book description
DEAD DRY HEART – A psychological thriller
Tyler Thompson is Australia’s young, brilliant and charismatic Prime Minister, riding high on a wave of popularity. But the past has come back to haunt him and there is a shocking secret from his childhood that he will do almost anything to conceal.
The one man who knows what happened twenty-five years ago is back – and he is hellbent on revenge. Tyler’s precious wife and baby have disappeared and their safe return will cost him everything: family, career and freedom.
But even that may not be enough to satisfy his nemesis – and the truth may be more terrible than he could possibly imagine.
A chilling novel about deceit, betrayal and murder, with twists and turns that you will not see coming.
This is what people are already saying about Dead Dry Heart:
“I thought it was great and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.” – Review on Facebook Book Club
“This is easily the best thing by this author that I have read. It is confident, assured and the pace is excellent. It really moves along beautifully and the characters are plausible and consistent.” – Review on Facebook Book Club
“Couldn’t put it down – I loved the twists and turns.” – Review on Facebook Book Club
If you would like to receive an Advance Reader’s Copy during the pre-order period, please send me your request by Email: email@example.com. I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Here is an excerpt from Dead Dry Heart
Thirty-nine years ago, Joshua Byrnes lived in Sydney with his parents and a Kelpie named Oscar. He was an apprentice builder and only twenty-three years old on the worst day of his life. It was a Thursday afternoon in the middle of summer during a heat wave. The temperature had soared to forty degrees centigrade and the previous night it had stayed in the high twenties. That’s the sort of weather that can fray tempers and drive people insane.
His father, Michael Byrnes, was a bookkeeper, though the business he worked for was steadily going broke. One day the owner told him that they were closing down, that he no longer had a job. He came home and sat around the house for weeks, feeling worse every day and then hardly bothering to get out of bed.
He had been a loving husband, but now he snapped at his wife all day until finally she told him to shut up and do something useful. “You need to see the doctor and get some treatment. I think you’ve got the blues and I’ve had enough of all your moping.”
At four o’clock on that hot afternoon, he walked into the kitchen where his wife was making a casserole.
There was a knife in his hand.
A few minutes later, with his clothes soaked in blood, he walked through the dining room, the living room and out to the verandah that looked out over the small back garden. He sat down on a wicker chair and stared at his beloved vegetable patch. Then he gently pressed the blade against his wrist.
Joshua arrived home at six o’clock and noticed that the house seemed very quiet. Cooking smells didn’t hit his nostrils like they usually did when he walked through the front door. Then he noticed the bloody footprints in the hallway. “Mum, are you all right?” he cried.
His breathing rate had already soared by the time he reached the kitchen and saw her on the floor. Blood spread out across the tiles like a flow of lava and there was splatter on the walls, the bench, the ceiling.
The bloody footprints led him through the house and out to the back garden. His father was in his favourite chair and as he ran over, Joshua called out his name. But there was no response – and then he saw the knife on his lap.
“Dad, look at me,” he said, fury welling up inside him.
The police interrogated Joshua for hours and tried to accuse him of killing his parents. His sense of outrage grew, the feeling that all of civilisation could frankly go to hell. Finally, they decided that the incident was probably a murder-suicide, an argument gone wrong. His beloved mother was dead. His father was dead and he could no longer blame him, yell at him or see him go to jail. There would never be any justice.
Wherever he went, people looked at him with suspicion in their eyes and then turned away. He knew what they were thinking.
There’s Joshua Byrnes, the man who killed his parents.
The memories wouldn’t fade and all he wanted to do was forget. He inherited the small house, but that only increased his grief. He decided to walk away and leave everything behind, escape from the city and try to forget. He stuffed what he needed into his backpack then piled newspaper on the kitchen stove and turned on the switch.
Joshua stood outside and watched the house burn down. Then he walked away with only his dog for company. He became an outback wanderer and never looked back, stopping in one place only long enough to earn some money and then move on.
By the time he reached South Australia, Oscar had grown old and one day he passed away. Joshua buried his friend under a shady gum tree and for a long time was lonely without him. But he kept making his way across Australia, heading west and then north.
Sydney was becoming a distant memory.
The present day
Soon everyone in the world will know my terrible secret. I’m sitting in a darkened room waiting for my story to virally invade every house in the country, my life to fall apart, my career to be ruined, the police to drag me away and my wife to tell me it would be much better if I never see her or our little boy again.
The seconds tick by slowly and I can hear the sound of my breathing. I’m about to become number one on the list of the most reviled and despised people on Earth. Talked about on every television channel, in every newspaper, the favourite subject for a million conversations between ordinary people all over Australia and even around the world.
It isn’t hard to guess what you’re thinking. This guy must have tickets on himself. Why would anyone care less what he did? It might attract their attention for a few minutes while they watch the news, and then they’ll forget all about me. But you know what they say. The higher you climb, the longer and harder it is to fall – and believe me, I’m about to fall off Mt Everest.
The truth is that I’m not at all conceited. I’ve never had a big ego. My skills and talents just came naturally to me and no one ever accused me of showing off or being arrogant. That’s probably why the media love me. You see, to quote words I’ve read a thousand times: Tyler Thompson is brilliant and charismatic, Tyler Thompson is the youngest Prime Minister in Australia’s history and Tyler Thompson has a beautiful wife and baby. I’m so popular, the only people who don’t like me are my political opponents. But all good things must come to an end and now I’ll be plunging lower than a snake’s belly.
It can be hard to find solitude in The Lodge, my official residence in Canberra. But tonight my senior adviser and the household staff have been sent home and the security detail are keeping their distance outside. So here I am in my study, all alone and listening to the sound of silence. Not even wanting to turn on the light. Mr Dynamic, Mr Energy, suddenly with nothing to do except sit and think so hard that the gears in my brain can be heard spinning out of control.
But there’s another reason for my waiting, the only thing that I truly care about: the safe return of my wife and child.
My head aches just from thinking about them. Soon they should be home from that camping trip. Letitia probably won’t know that she’s been in danger, that she could have been killed. She’ll come home and start to put Charlie to bed, and then she’ll discover everything.
The endless waiting is driving me crazy. To fill in the time, stop me thinking about them until my brain bursts, I try to recall the last twenty-six years of my life. First I’m talking to myself, and then before I know it my laptop is open and the microphone switched on. I clear my throat and tell my story right from the beginning.
Working eighteen hours a day, I often wrote down my thoughts, ideas, plans for the future. But now the most intimate and secret details about my life are being recorded. Letitia and Charlie have still not come home.
Twenty-six years ago
The first eleven years of my life. Those years are meant to be happy times, going to school, playing with friends, enjoying family holidays, waiting for Christmas, loving my parents more than anything else in the world. My parents were Kylie and Peter Thompson and I hated them, although there was also a strange twisted feeling of love, sort of like a puppy that loves his owner no matter what happens, no matter how badly he’s treated, until the day he suddenly turns and fights back.
I don’t remember my first eleven years. At least, they appear like a mountain shrouded in heavy fog, hidden from view. It could be the biggest mountain in the world, but so long as the fog remains it doesn’t exist, you can play a game and pretend that it’s not there.
Those years were so awful that I can’t bear to think about them, and my mind has hidden all the memories in a little backroom closet deep inside my brain. One hundred and forty-four months are obliterated from view, the memories as clear as a glass filled with mud. If I tried to retrieve them, went to one of those hypnotherapists, lay on a couch while they tried to untangle the mess, then it’s likely to send me insane. That’s my deepest fear – wrapped up in a straight jacket, locked in a padded cell.
I’d prefer to ignore those years, not bring them back into sharp focus. I can remember the taste of my own salty tears, but then my head turns into a swirling mist.
I must have been about seven when my parents bought an old campervan – or perhaps they stole it – and it became our house and car all rolled into one. It was a dull green, covered in dents and scratches with a white roof and its own chorus of a hundred different squeaks and groans. Inside, the vinyl and laminex were torn and stained, with a strange smell like an old lady’s living room. And of course there was the ever-present stench from cigarettes and beer.
By the time I was eleven we’d been driving around Australia for four years, surviving on social security payments. We would stop to camp for several days or weeks and then move on, stop and set up camp again. I know I was born in Melbourne. But the day I turned eleven we were in Western Australia, way up north near Broome on the road to Port Hedland. That road, let me tell you, is not exactly easy street.
I can remember that afternoon so clearly. My father was driving. “You don’t need school, Tyler,” he said. “You don’t need to learn anything. It’s all a waste of time. All you need is enough money for food, cigarettes, beer and petrol.”
“Yes, Dad,” I replied, shifting my backside to reduce the pain from sitting on the hard seat. I turned and looked out at the endless red earth, the sparse scrub. There were no trees anywhere, so in my mind I recited the name of every tree I could remember: oak, elm, wattle, maple, gum, poplar, willow. Travelling all the time, no one came to see why I wasn’t at school so I had to teach myself.
We saw a road train approaching in the opposite direction. “Look at that bastard, how long is that?” asked Dad. Three giant trailers packed with cattle thundered past. The ground trembled like an earthquake and raised a choking cloud of red dust that filled the van.
My mother coughed the dryness out of her throat. “Give me more notice next time,” she said. “We have to shut the windows.”
I don’t know why she bothered to say that. There was no way we could shut the windows with such oppressive heat inside that vehicle. And one window was broken and always had been, remaining permanently half-open.
I tried to be quiet so that they would ignore me. Dad would become angry if I made the slightest sound and Mum would scream at me to shut up. My head ached with boredom so I counted plants and birds, memorised every number plate and created coded messages in my head. I wrote secret messages to myself, plans to escape and live on my own in the desert.
Somehow I always knew how to read although I never went to school. Spelling came to me naturally like breathing or walking, and I would test myself on how to spell any word that I overheard. I wrote stories in my head and read anything that was available – discarded newspapers, magazines or books, so long as my parents didn’t notice.
After lunch we saw the Sahara Desert, or that was how it seemed. In the distance, on one side of the road, there were enormous sand dunes worthy of the French Foreign Legion.
“Eighty Mile Beach,” said Dad. “Eighty miles is a long way, more than a hundred kilometres. A lot of kids would kill to see this.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I replied, wondering if that meant we would finally stop.
“I can’t wait to have a swim,” said Mum.
We veered off the road, drove through a gap between two dunes and parked beside an outcrop of red rocks. The secluded location was the perfect spot for a campsite. A white sandy beach curved gently for miles. There was no one else in sight.
“We own the whole beach,” I said, knowing my parents would be in a good mood.
“You got it right for once, Tyler,” said Dad as he lit a cigarette.
A few minutes later, we ran towards the water and the ocean was as warm as a bath. My parents laughed and frolicked together, dunking each other in the water. I stayed well away from them, jumping up and down by myself in time with the waves.
I did my favourite trick, one that I tried every time and always with the same result. I plunged under the water to disappear and held my breath for as long as I could. My plan was to see if my parents would notice I was missing, then panic and try to find me.
But nothing happened, they never looked at me and finally the urge to breathe was overwhelming. Rising to the surface, I gasped for air.
I glanced at them, wondering whether they would call the police if I really vanished or drowned. They would probably only shrug their shoulders, pretend that Tyler Thompson never existed, get into the van and drive on to the next campsite.
When I left the water, the sand was so hot that I sprinted to reach my flip-flops. I found out later that the locals called it firesand – sand so hot that it burned your feet like hot coals. I can still hear my parents laughing.
We set up camp for the night. Mum cooked sausages and potatoes for dinner while I tried to keep out of their way. I hid behind a rock while the sun set and my father drank three beers, but then he called out to me. “Come here, Tyler.”
I raced over to him, but not fast enough.
“Get here straight away when I call you,” he said, his voice contorted in anger.
“Let’s have some fun before dinner. Walk to the top of that dune with your shoes off.”
I felt a knot tighten in my stomach. “No, Dad, it’s hot,” I said.
I threw off my shoes and ran up the dune as fast as I could.
“Not so fast!” he shouted. I heard my mother laugh.
I followed their instructions and walked as slowly as I dared on the burning sand – up and down that dune three times.
“Please, Dad, no more,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady.
“It’s good for you, Tyler. Exercise is good for you.”
“Dinner’s ready,” said Mum.
“You beauty. Get here, Tyler.”
I ran into the water to cool my feet and back again, then attempted to sit at more than an arm’s length from them. For a few minutes we were all quiet. My feet were stinging but that didn’t stop me devouring half my meal.
My father reached out and from underneath he knocked my enamel plate into the air. Sausages and potatoes flew in all directions and hit the sand.
“Dinner dropped again,” he said. “Pick it up and throw it out. What did I say about wasting food?”
“Sorry, Dad,” I murmured, getting on my knees and picking up the sand-coated scraps of food.
“Stand over there and hold that rock,” he said, pointing to a red rock on the ground about the size of a house brick. I did as he commanded, walked over and stood there holding it in both hands. He finished his dinner and drank more beer. “You need to be taught a lesson, Tyler.”
I blinked away tears and refused to let him see me cry. “Yes, Dad.”
I had no way of knowing that someone was watching us.
I stood there holding that rock for thirty minutes. To take my mind away from the pain in my arms, I counted the waves, their speed and size and shape, searching for patterns in the way they broke on the shore. There were a billion dazzling stars to gaze at, shining bright because we were so far from any city.
Then incredible streaks of light appeared and my parents saw them at the same time: a dozen shooting stars in quick succession, high up in the sky above us.
“What’s happening Pete, is that a plane?” asked my mother.
“I don’t think so, I don’t know what it is,” he replied, scratching his head.
The flash only lasted a moment, but my parents kept staring at the sky. I took that opportunity to bend down and place the rock on the ground without them noticing. Then I sat down to rest and gently rubbed my hands. Those mysterious lights had saved me, at least for the time being.
They were probably just a freak of nature, but something even stranger happened. Those lights seemed to be a harbinger sent to foreshadow the arrival of a stranger.
There was a full moon that illuminated the beach and our campsite, reflecting on the breaking waves. A man appeared at the top of a nearby sand dune, standing still and staring down at us.
I was afraid that he was the walking dead or an outback serial killer. My mother always said that someone like that would come and get me and chop me into pieces. “Look over there,” I cried, trying to attract my parents’ attention for once.
With a long and languorous gait, the man walked towards us. He was tall and skinny, with tanned and weathered skin as if he’d been out in the sun for far too long. As he came closer I could see that he was probably in his late thirties, about the same age as my father. All he had with him was a backpack.
My mother stepped behind Dad as if that would protect her. My father was frozen, too petrified to move a muscle or even blink an eye.
End of first chapter
Now available only at Amazon – or contact me for an Advance Reader’s Copy
To find out more, please follow me online here:
Text and Image copyright © 2018 Toni Pike – All Rights Reserved
Thank you for stopping by. You can find out more about all my books here.